Meet Guerschon Yabusele, the Celtics' big, French 'dancing bear'

Jaylen Brown's advice for Celtics pick Yabusele (0:58)

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown talks about his bond with fellow Boston pick Guerschon Yabusele, who just finished playing in China. Brown also shares some advice for the newcomer. (0:58)

It's tough to pick one word that captures Guerschon Yabusele's game.

There's the force that comes from watching a ton of Larry Johnson tapes growing up. There's the versatility, a must for modern big men in today's NBA. And then there's the creativity. At 6-8, 270 pounds, Yabusele has been known to occasionally throw down a signature Karl Malone hammer dunk to salute "The Mailman."

"I was in a fast break, and all of a sudden it came to me," said Yabusele, who was the Boston Celtics' 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft and just finished a season with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). "I wanted the people to feel the power."

For the 21-year-old Frenchman who grew up as a fan of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, he is perfectly fine just being Boston's "dancing bear," as Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry and now many others call him because of his size and quickness.

"That kid is a freak of nature that I had never seen, somebody so big and so mobile," said Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, a friend of Yabusele.

While playing at last year's NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Yabusele quickly impressed two of the Sharks' coaches who were scouting for the team's foreign imports in the upcoming CBA season. Since there wasn't an extra spot on the Celtics' roster for this season, Yabusele signed with Shanghai on a one-year deal, playing alongside former NBA guard Jimmer Fredette and completing the season with averages of 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2 assists per game in 43 games.

"I was very pleased with the way he played," said Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel, who traveled to China last December to watch Yabusele play. "I think Guerschon's strengths right now are his size and ability to play multiple positions, either 4 or 5. His 3-point shooting and passing are wonderful for a big guy."

"It was my first time playing basketball outside my city in France," Yabusele said, three days after his team got eliminated from the first round of the CBA playoffs. He is slated to fly back to his hometown of Dreux in northern France for a long-overdue family reunion.

Yabusele would relax in Shanghai by dining at Morton's steakhouse and touring the Shanghai Tower, the world's second-tallest building, amid a schedule that includes three games a week, but being thousands of miles away from home for seven months is still not easy.

"You come to a new city and a different culture," Yabusele said. "You are not with your friends and family, and the food is not the same. It's a challenge. Not everybody can do it."

But he did it, and he did it well.

"He is one of the nicest kids with a genuine spirit," said Matt Beyer, Yabusele's agent.

"When I was there, every single person told me what a joy he was to be around," Ainge said. "They love his big smile and happy personality. I thought it was fun walking around in Shanghai with Guerschon where so many people recognized him. They just kept saying, "Yabusele." I think that was fun.

"I was joking with Guerschon that, when he was in France, he never did a lot of celebrations. But in China, after every shot or dunk, he is doing different dances and celebrations."

Born in an immigrant family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yabusele grew up training with his father, a professional boxer who came to France in his 20s.

For Yabusele, who has two older sisters and two younger brothers, his early years were spent in boxing and soccer until he reached age 7.

"I was a big kid already," Yabusele said. "I was playing soccer with my dad, and one day, he said to me, 'You are getting big, really. You've got to try basketball, and you are going to like it.' So from that moment, I started playing basketball."

Yabusele is currently recovering from a sprained ankle in the CBA playoffs. He will stay in France for some time before reporting to the Celtics, where he will get an evaluation on his injury from the team's doctors, and stay with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League for the rest of the season.

"It will help him learn our system a little bit and get ready for the Summer League," Ainge said.

According to ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton's projection, given Yabusele's CBA figures this season he is expected to average 13.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per 36 minutes in the NBA.

"I'd say the key to his development will probably be improving as a defensive rebounder," Pelton said. "His translated defensive rebound percentage is 16.9 percent, which is below average for a power forward (18.4 percent). But his high-percentage finishing, ability to shoot the FIBA 3 and solid block rate are all encouraging for the Celtics."

When discussing the performance of foreign imports in the CBA, experts often argue that their impressive statistics should be viewed with caution, pointing to the league's lack of competitiveness.

But Ainge, who watched Yabusele closely during the season and spoke with him at least once a week, still likes what he has seen in Boston's young prospect.

"The CBA is the not best league in the world, but it does have very good import players," Ainge said. "The import big men that Guerschon faced included high-level players."

Said Yabusele: "All I am saying is, in every league, you can find people who play defense and people who don't. I think the CBA is a good league. People say they don't play defense and things like that, but think about it -- if you have some players who can accomplish a lot in this league, they can also do it elsewhere. They are just good. It's like when you are guarding Kobe Bryant and he's killing everybody, it doesn't mean the defense is bad. I really think a lot of players here can do the same thing in other leagues where there's definitely defense."

For now, the Celtics are bullish on his return to the NBA.

"He made a lot of friends in the short amount of time in the summer league, and our coaching staff and players really liked him." Ainge said. "We are optimistic. We expect him to be with us next year and help us."